They call it “the nuclear option.” The term refers to the proposal to change those rules of the Senate allowing 40 of 100 members to determine whether legislation is enacted or critical appointees confirmed. Both parties have used and abused the filibuster over the years by to nullify elections and to ignore the clear will of a majority of Americans.
Changing that rule should not be termed “the nuclear option.” It’s “the democratic option.” Senators who are often elected by a slim majority of not much more than 50% use an anachronistic rule to require 60% of the senate to tear down political roadblocks to doing the people’s business.
The filibuster is an equal opportunity, bipartisan affront to democracy. According to USA Today, members of both parties have set filibuster records.
Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Democrat, who later switched parties set the record with a 24 hours, 18 minute filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. New Your Republican Alfonse D'Amato used 23 hours, 30 minutes of the people’s time to protest an amendment to a defense bill that would have blocked funding for a jet fighter built in his state.
Wayne Morse, a Democrat who entered the Senate as a Republican, talked for 22 hours, 26 minutes against a bill giving states control over oil leases. Wisconsin Republican Robert LaFollette halted efforts to allow the U.S. Treasury to lend money to banks during the fiscal crisis of 1908 by filibustering for 18 hours, 23 minutes. William Proxmire, a Wisconsin Democrat occupied the floor for 16 hours, 12 minutes in 1981, giving a speech against raising the nation's debt limit.
The current Majority Leader, Harry Reid, who now leads the way to limit the filibuster, is not without sin. He used the procedure when the Republicans had the majority in 2003, talking for more than eight hours to stop some of George Bush’s judicial nominees.
But the case is clear that the abuses of the last few years are without precedent. One half of all filibusters used by the minority to block judicial appointments in the entire history of the United States have come during the four-and-a-half years of Barack Obama’s administration.
But when both parties point fingers at one another to prove each wrongfully used the filibuster when it served their interests, they are simply demonstrating how much the rule needs changed. Regardless of which party holds the majority, elections have consequences. In a democracy, the majority rules.
The fact is that in many ways, the US Senate has always been a decidedly undemocratic institution. While members of the US House of representatives and both houses of every state legislature are required by the US Constitution to be elected on the basis of population, the Senate was established as a means of circumventing the popular will. The 38 million Californians have the same number of senators as the half a million people who live in Wyoming.
Senators serve six-year terms as opposed to two-year house terms, further removing senators from accountability to voters. They have to have celebrated more birthdays, and have more years as US citizens than house members. They alone confirm cabinet and court appointees, and ratify treaties.
But those rules, which have effectively created an American “House of Lords,” are in the Constitution. The filibuster isn’t.
Doubters should consider James Madison’s views about creating super-majority requirements. "[Requiring a supermajority] would mean,” Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers No. 58, “the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule; the power would be transferred to the minority."
The day will come when Democrats will wish they still had the filibuster to stop a Republican president’s judicial appointments. The new rule didn’t go far enough and should have included votes on legislation as well as appointments. Even so, if it’s any longer possible in America to view anything through non-partisan eyes, this reform is long overdue for the good of the nation.